Clanship to crofters’ war

The social transformation of the Scottish Highlands

This book charts the story of the people of the Scottish Highlands from before the '45 to the great crofters' rebellion in the 1880s - a powerful story of defeat, social dissolution, emigration, rebellion and cultural revival. The conventional and familiar division of Scotland into 'Highlands' and 'Lowlands' is a comparatively recent development. Strangely, fourteenth century chroniclers who noted differences in culture, dress, speech and social behaviour between the Highlands and the Lowlands failed to comment on clanship as a distinguishing characteristic. During the Wars of Independence against England, soldiers from the Highlands fought on the Scottish side but were not given clan affiliations. The penetration of feudal structures into the Highlands blurred the distinction between clanship and social systems elsewhere in Scotland and many of the greatest clan chiefs were feudal lords as well as tribal leaders. This can be best illustrated from the history of the Lordship of the Isles. Successive heads of the MacDonald dynasty practised primogeniture, issued feudal charters to major landowners in the lordship and employed feudal rules in marital contracts. It used to be thought that Highland clanship died on Culloden Moor in 1746 and was effectively buried by the punitive legislation imposed on Gaeldom after the final defeat of the last Jacobite rebellion. It is clear that clan society was undergoing a process of gradual and protracted decline long before the '45 and that the climax to this was reached in the decades after the failure of the rebellion.

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